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August 20, 2013

How I Fled a Life of Polygamy

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Rebecca Musser

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When I watched television, I was surprised and often scandalized by how different it was from when we were kids and allowed only certain programs (Little House on the PrairieMister Rogers' Neighborhood, and Sesame Street until it, like cartoons, was deemed idolatrous for imitating God's creations). One day, Cole insisted that I watch a movie called The Truman Show. The main character, Truman Burbank, was adopted as a baby by a television studio. Every important person in his life is an actor, every part of his life a set—but he doesn't know it. Whenever he wants something the production team can't provide, he's told that it's just not available. He has inklings things aren't right and finally realizes that his life is a total lie—set up for the camera. When Truman finally makes it to the edge of a painted canvas and recognizes it for what it is, he walks off the set and into his new life.

The movie was a mirror of my own life. Before every decision I'd ever made, I'd asked myself, "What would the Prophet have me say? What would the Prophet have me do?" For every question, there had been an appropriate, programmed answer. I was never allowed my own opinion; I had never developed the ability to choose. All of my people were like that, too. I gave myself permission to look deeply at polygamy in a way I never had before. Nothing seemed holy about the structure that must be in place for polygamy to work. Why would God put a roughly equal number of males and females on the earth if He wanted a polygamous society? This structure meant that women don't get the time, affection, and validation they so crave. And because only a select number of male leaders are righteous enough to receive multiple wives, not only do an extraordinarily high number of young men get kicked out, but the marriageable girls become increasingly younger as demand intensifies.

Throw all of these factors into a climate in which the leaders make the people feel as if they can never question those leaders because that means questioning God Himself, then one has a recipe for spiritual abuse. Every way that I examined it, it was neither healthy nor holy. Why could no one see it? Because they would not—unless, like me, they were denied the good graces of Warren Jeffs. All I knew was that I did not want that perverse dictator running my show ever again.

POSTSCRIPTRebecca Musser, now 37, was the key state witness in the 2008 trials of Warren Jeffs and several FLDS leaders. In 2011 Jeffs, who counted a 12- and 15-year-old among his reported 80 wives, was convicted of sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault of a minor and is serving a life sentence plus 20 years in a Texas prison. Musser, a motivational speaker and the founder of Claim Red Foundation, which supports victims of human trafficking, lives in Idaho with her two children. The FLDS, based in Arizona and Utah, maintains a membership estimated between 6,000 and 10,000.

Excerpted from The Witness Wore Red: The 19th Wife Who Brought Polygamous Cult Leaders to Justice by Rebecca Musser with M. Bridget Cook. Copyright © 2013 by Rebecca Musser. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.


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